Name: Mehriban Taghiyeva
Nationality or Ethnicity: Azerbaijani
Where do you live?: Serbia
Languages: Azerbaijani, English, Russian, Turkish, French, Serbo-Croatian
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
As Azerbaijan used to be a part of the Soviet Union most of us grew bilingual speaking Azerbaijani and Russian. But for my parents it wasn’t enough that their kids are just conversant in Russian, they wanted me and my brother to read Tolstoy and Dostoyevski in origin - so they decided to have us attend Russian schools in order to be fully proficient in this language.
My mom was an English language teacher in a public school, so she was the one who made me love this language. Most of the bed time stories she would read to me and my brother were in English, but since we barely could understand half of what we heard, mom had to gesticulate and act out those stories. This is how we got to have our own little theatre every night. I was so impressed by this wonder of the language world that I knew already from the early ages of my life that I want to learn this language so that I can read all of those books by myself 😊
And so I did - I was dedicated to my childhood wish and after I finished school, my choice fell to continue my education in the University of Foreign Languages of Azerbaijan. My major was English and second language was French. Although my English was going really well since I had lots of opportunities to practice my language skills with native speakers, I couldn’t say the same about French. It was stuck at the writing and reading level for there was no one who I could practice the spoken language with. As a linguist I know very well that in order to master any language you’ve got to use it, otherwise it gets easily forgotten - in fact this is how all those languages died out - they were out of use for a long time....sadly 😔
So, I left my French where it was and thought no more of it until I had to move to Belgium due to my husband’s work duties. That is when I had to pull out everything my brain had stored for years in French and try to put them together in a meaningful way😄. Like I said before, one can easily forget what they learned if they don’t get to practice it, so I was horrified to find out that I remembered and understood very little, especially when I heard locals speaking french. That was the moment I got to realise I have to do something about it asap; hence I signed up for a French language course. In a few weeks I was able to speak basic French and felt so much better about myself 😇
Luckily, I was never shy when it came to expressing myself in a foreign language, which was super helpful for me while learning new languages. Same was with French, I used every chance to communicate with locals and grasp their accent as well as to differentiate between Belgian French and France French! So, I’m grateful for this life lesson which had encouraged me to move on with language learning.
As for Turkish, for me there was never a problem understanding the language as Turkish and Azeri languages belong to the Oghuz or Western Turkic group of Turkic languages along with Turkmen, the language spoken in modern Turkmenistan. Therefore, all three languages share some common linguistic features that are not found in other groups of Turkic languages. I started using more Turkish while working as a translator/interpreter and never stopped practicing it due to numerous friends from Turkey.
My first official teaching experience began abroad. I had to move to Croatia due to my husband’s new job mandate. As a result, I pursued a new challenge: acquiring another foreign language proficiency – this time it was Croatian. Once again I accomplished a career goal set for myself: 100% success, as confirmed by obtaining a certificate for my qualifications as Court interpreter for the Croatian language.
Subsequently, when a project of language representation was launched in 2014, my candidacy was offered by the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to Croatia to become the Lecturer of the Azerbaijani language in the “University of Humanities and Social Sciences” in Zagreb for they believed it would the best that a native speaker teaches the language and explains the grammar in Croatian.
Now, we live in Serbia and since Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian are nearly identical to each other (belonging to a South Slavic language group and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro). There are certain differences between those languages in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Moreover, they have separate writing systems: Serbian uses both the Cyrillic and the Roman alphabets, while Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegro use the Roman alphabet exclusively.
Nevertheless, it was not very difficult for me to adapt to Serbian given the fact that I already learned Cyrillic alphabet in elementary school.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Definitely French- I wish I had more opportunities to speak French. I feel relaxed when I start speaking all the other languages I know, because I don’t have to think before I speak, but with French it’s very different: I have to articulate it in my mind before putting the words in my mouth.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’ve always been wanting to learn Korean and Portuguese. I hope there’ll be the right opportunities in life for me to realise this wish.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
There are certain languages which are more melodic and nicer to hear or speak than others - Portuguese is the one for me; I could easily fall in love with how it sounds❤️.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Obviously, being multilingual helps you travel easily and get around with different situations, cultures and people. But I definitely enjoy seeing how people react once I start speaking Serbo/Croatian or Russian with no accent, since my looks are absolutely not Slavic. Another proof to a saying: don’t judge the book by its cover.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
Well, over the course of time lesser known cultures and their unique languages struggled to survive and the world has witnessed already some of them getting totally erased and forgotten leaving widely spoken languages such as English, French and Chinese to swallow them up. America and Australia are bright examples, where most native languages are extinct or about to die out.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Don’t be intimidated - go ahead and do it, especially if there are languages that you really want to be able to speak and understand. Studying a new language might seem too challenging, however at the same time it can make you happy! Really - all the processing of words, grammar and syntax is one of the most complex functions your brain ever has to handle, so once you master one language, you’ll want to move on to another one 😄